Sometime in the past it was just me and my TBI, on the battlefield. We stared across at each other, waiting to see who would blink before charging. Knowing there was a lot at stake, a great tension filled the air. This was the most important battle I would ever have in my life.
I’m not really sure how far into my TBI experience this occurred. I do know, however, that early on after my injury I was just trying to exist, to get by, and only later, after I had acquired the tools and knowledge I would need to effectively battle my TBI, was I ready.
It took time to get to that point, but at that moment, when it came time for me to make a decision, to make a move, I was ready; like a gladiator in the ancient Coliseum, with thousands cheering me on. This was a fight to the death, or as I prefer to think of it: a fight to the life. No matter how scary that moment was for me, when I was putting it all on the line, it was also life affirming; finally asserting myself and my right to live a fulfilled life; breathing into me the oxygen I would need to live my life on my terms. This was about me taking a huge step forward.
The Big Lesson
That one, single life changing moment can happen at anytime and under any circumstances, and even though we may not always feel like we are ready, those singular moments must be taken advantage of when presented to us TBI survivors. These are when the opportunity arises to claim your life for your own, and they always have one thing in common: they are marked by the realization that the quality of your “Post-TBI Life ” is up to you.
This was the moment I decided to take my life back.
Out of the ruins and despair of what we call recovery or rehabilitation, often we can find the clarity we need to live our lives, for, isn’t that what we are all trying to do? Live our lives?
This is what happened to me:
Somewhere along the line I snapped to attention and came to the conclusion that everything was up to me and me alone. I’m not aware of any one thing that caused me to finally realize that I had the power to affect my own life, regardless of my situation or how hopeless things seemed. But something did, and at that point it wasn’t about me versus my TBI. It was me, a person in the world, getting my life back.
The focus wasn’t on getting back the stuff I had lost: the focus was about me, today, moving forward, with no excuses. In other words: I was the way I was, and it didn’t matter the reason why.
We can be so much more than our brain injuries
As Dr. Larry Schutz says in his book, “Head Injury Recovery in Real Life,” where he examines a number of case studies of severe brain injury, “Every exceptional outcome was created by the survivor, through a deliberate, determined effort to make his or her behavior work better. Every recovery required active effort and self correction, and every one still requires the activities today.”
Schultz puts the onus directly on us. This is where it gets really complicated and really beautiful.
In my mind, there are three areas to pay attention to when talking about life after brain injury. These three components are the mental, emotional and the physical.
The physical is the actual grunt work, the day to day work you must put into making your life better. The physical is the most obvious, the thing everyone else sees and judges you by, and to many people, the most pressing and important.
Who’s your daddy?
However important the physical stuff is, we must understand that the physical has a boss who tells it what to do, how to do it, and how you’re going to feel, both while you’re doing it and when you’re done. That boss is your mental state. In the end, the thinking part of your brain, injured or not, is the ruler of the kingdom, the supreme being.
How we approach life after TBI (attitude, letting things bother you, etc.) directly affects our ability to function adequately and live a fulfilled life.
When I realized that the mental aspect of being a human being was so important to the things I did, how I did them, and how I felt about them, I gave myself the opportunity to become more powerful than I ever could imagine. It was the ultimate freedom, realizing that myself and my consciously made decisions could have so much influence.
I gave myself permission to be as I was and accept myself .
I, and not my TBI, am the boss of me.
Paul W Giunta Jr says
Jeff, I just finished the last page of a book I recommend for you, “Resilience”. It’s written by a Navy Seal, Eric Greitens, in the format of a letter in each chapter to a fellow SEAL comrade of his, who was having difficulties in every-day life. You’ll enjoy some of his thoughts I’m going to re-read it again, focusing on all the handwritten notes I made on each page
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks Paul. I’ll check it out.
kirtley thornton says
There is another way to deal with the problem. EEG biofeedback addresses the physical damage directly done by a TBI. Research has shown dramatic improvements in memory ability (2.3 Standard deviations) in the TBI (mild/moderate)
Maria Romanas says
Hear! Hear! Great post, Jeff.
As you know, I have moved to a new state and a new job. Although it is supposed to be pretty much the same as the old job, it has surprised me how long it is taking to get on top of it.
I get discouraged when I have to work long hours to get the job done. That discouragement is my greatest enemy. When that happens, everything just snowballs and spirals downward.
I am learning that my mental state or attitude is the only thing I can control in any situation. The following is a quote on attitude (by Chuck Swindoll) that I have posted at my desk.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It will make or break a company…a church…a school…a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”
Granted, as a person who has a TBI, I can get emotionally overwhelmed much easier than the non-injured people around me. When that happens, I can do almost nothing to change my attitude or anything else, until I regain emotional control. That is my top priority.
Maybe you could write another post (if you have not already) that focuses on how you maintain or regain emotional control when things get overwhelming.
Jeff Sebell says
Great to hear from you Maria. Hope the job gets easier; I’m sure once you’ve figured out the adjustments you need to make things will get easier. Very good point about attitude. The way I’ve always looked at it is that my attitude is the way I interpret things that happen to me, and that is completely in my control. You made a very good suggestion. I have written blogs that touched on being overwhelmed…maybe I can go a bit deeper. Let’s stay in touch. Best, Jeff
Mike Strand says
Great post! The take away point for me was the quote from Dr. Schultz about every successful tbi recovery being an act of will by the individual.
27 years post, I sometimes take it for granted that I am as high functioning as I am. I know I worked hard, but I always feel that I might have gotten better anyway, just like letting a broken bone heal.
So it’s good to hear from an expert that it was my effort. I guess some times the experts are right!
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks for reading and responding, Mike. You’ve obviously done a terrific job, and it’s because of who you are. I guess we all have challenges, and how we face those challenges plays the largest role in how we end up.